“Like most people, I’d heard about the opioid epidemic. It was especially hard to get my mind around a statistic from 2016: almost as many deaths from drug overdoses as in all of America’s recent wars combined. But numbers are an abstraction. I had no idea what it looked like on the ground. The only way to make real sense of it, I told my editors, was to see what happens to individual human beings, one by one.”

James Nachtwey

Photojournalist, The Opioid Diaries, TIME Magazine, March 2018


The current issue of TIME Magazine features the work of James Nachtwey, who was assigned to ‘tell the story’ of the opioid epidemic happening across our country. For the first time in their history, TIME has dedicated the entire issue to the work of one photographer. If you haven’t seen it, I recommend you read it.

The opioid crisis is the worst addiction epidemic in American history. Worse than AIDS. Drug overdoses are killing more than 64,000 people each year. And, incredibly, it has lowered the overall life expectancy in America for two years in a row. According to TIME, “More than 122 people die every day from syringes of heroin, gel caps of fentanyl, an excess of oxycodone.”

It is so painful to see people suffering across our country and be at a loss as to how to stop it. Ironically, this epidemic is caused by drugs whose purpose is to alleviate pain.

“I’m not prone to dramatic statements,” says Robert Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics. “But I think we should be really alarmed. The drug overdose problem is a public health problem, and it needs to be addressed. We need to get a handle on it.”

National Public Radio interview

All of us, as health care marketing experts, have great power in educating people and helping them understand how to be healthier. We produce ads—about the value of mammograms and colonoscopies; why all of us should have an annual physical; about the value of developing a relationship with a primary care physician. Orthopedic campaigns tell folks there are doctors who can make us feel better for golfing and hiking. Cancer and heart campaigns provide extremely valuable information on prevention and treatment.

Please understand, I know the importance of service line campaigns. But, right now, I believe there is nothing more important than educating everyone about this addiction crisis and what all of us can do to prevent more deaths. It’s time to free up your budget in order to spread the word on things like:

  • Why opioids are so addictive and how you can ask your physician about alternatives
  • How Naloxone can prevent death and how it is accessible to almost everyone who may be close to someone suffering from this addiction
  • How to recognize signs of addiction and where to go for help in your community
  • If you are suffering and suspect you may be heading toward an addiction, how to get help now from your health care provider

Last August, The New York Times published an in-depth story about the crisis, what it is, what is an opioid, etc. The article is packed with great information, statistics, charts and graphs.

We are storytellers. It is time to tell the story of this crisis. There are several public awareness campaigns I’ve seen, mostly produced by government entities. The Centers for Disease Control produced a very good campaign telling consumers, “it only takes a little to lose a lot.”

Another was produced by the government of British Columbia, who aims to change the perception of the opioid crisis with labels such as “mother, teammate, fishing buddy.”

Hailey Sault conducted national research in 2016 around the topic “Why patients change health care providers.” One discovery from the respondents was they have the most trust in information they receive from their health care provider—more than the internet, the government and their insurance company.   

As a health care organization, you have the power to change the direction of this crisis. You have the power to bring this to the forefront of our national conversation. It’s more important than your next branding campaign. In fact, if you want to really establish your brand, provide information that will save lives in the communities you serve.

Let’s start a movement, a movement among health care marketers. Let’s start the brainstorming sessions in departments across this country and help end this “greatest addiction crisis in our country’s history.”

Are you ready for better?

Our subscribers say our free content is more informative and empowering than the paid consulting they receive. We think you'll agree.